Samuel ben Meir (Troyes, c. 1085 – c. 1158), after his death known as "Rashbam", a Hebrew acronym for RAbbi SHmuel Ben Meir, was a leading French Tosafist and grandson of Shlomo Yitzhaki, "Rashi".
He was born in the vicinity of Troyes, in around 1085 in France to his father Meir ben Shmuel and mother Yocheved, daughter of Rashi. He was the older brother of Solomon the grammarian as well as of the Tosafists Isaac ben Meir (the "Rivam") and Jacob ben Meir ("Rabbeinu Tam"), and a colleague of Rabbi Joseph Kara.
Like his maternal grandfather, the Rashbam was a biblical commentator and Talmudist. He learned from Rashi and from Isaac ben Asher ha-Levi ("Riva"). He was the teacher of his brother, Rabbeinu Tam, and his method of interpretation differed from that of his grandfather.
Rashbam earned a living by tending livestock and growing grapes, following in his family tradition. Known for his piety, he defended Jewish beliefs in public disputes that had been arranged by church leaders to demonstrate the inferiority of Judaism.
Few details of Rashbam's life are known. He is said to have been so modest that he always walked with downcast eyes. Mordecai ben Hillel says that he was so absent-minded that once, while traveling, he climbed into a wagon loaded with cattle.
His commentary on the Torah is renowned for its stress on the plain meaning (peshat) of the text. He sometimes disputes his grandfather's interpretation and indicates that his grandfather concurred with his approach. He adopted a natural (as distinct from a homiletical and traditional) method. This approach often led him to state views that were somewhat controversial. Thus Rashbam (on Genesis 1:5) maintained that the day began at dawn and not from the previous sunset (as later Jewish custom assumed). Another famous interpretation was Rashbam's view that the much disputed phrase in Genesis 49:10 must be rendered “Until he cometh to Shiloh,” and refers to the division of the kingdom of Judah after Solomon's death.
Rashbam explains his aim in Biblical exegesis thus: "Those who love pure reason should always remember that the sages have said a Biblical passage must not be deprived of its original meaning [on Genesis 37:2]. Yet as a consequence of the opinion expressed by them, that the constant study of the Talmud is one of the most laudable pursuits, commentators have been unable, by reason of such study, to expound individual verses according to their obvious meaning. Even my grandfather Solomon was an adherent of this school; and I had an argument with him on that account, in which he admitted that he would revise his commentaries if he had time to do so."
Several scholars feel that the reason his commentary on Genesis was missing for a long time and not fully recovered until the late 1800s had to do with controversial remarks regarding when the day begins. Even today, not all versions of Mikraot Gedolot include a complete Rashbam. Portions of his commentary on the Talmud have been preserved, such as on the tractate Bava Batra (on large portions of the tractate where no commentary by Rashi is available), as well as the last chapter of tractate Pesachim. Rashbam's notes on the Bible are remarkable for brevity. He wrote two versions of his commentary on parts of the Bavli (Babylonian) Talmud, a long version and a short version. Generally, only his long version has been published, although the shorter version has sometimes been published in part. It is unfortunate that most of the shorter version has either never been completely published or has not been published since the 19th century.
Rashbam's Talmudical works include the following commentaries:
Other opinions of the Rashbam, which aren't found in his currently extant writings, are commonly quoted by tosafot throughout the Talmud.